A Reindeer's Journey

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
A Reindeer's Journey Movie Poster Image
Captivating reindeer docu has natural beauty, perils.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 86 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Opportunity to learn about and potentially appreciate the animal kingdom of the Arctic North and the natural environment of Lapland, in northern Scandinavia. Viewers will also learn how climate change, and human endeavors like deforestation and road construction, directly affect the environment.

Positive Messages

The natural world has rules and order passed down through centuries, and humans must understand it in order to protect it. Human actions and climate change are negatively affecting that natural order.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Natural instinct of mothers and herds is to care for, protect each other and their young. Mothers teach their babies perseverance, courage, self-confidence, self-care, survival habits. Animals grow quickly to embody these characteristics, take on knowledge and traditions of their ancestors. Humans can learn from animal behavior.

Violence & Scariness

Animals in nature face predators, including other animals, weather changes, natural disasters, and human encroachment on their environment. Death is a constant threat.

Sexy Stuff

Animals of all kinds enter mating season and seek out partners of the opposite gender. Male reindeer compete for dominance in order to "receive the favors" of the females. Mothers birth and nurse their cubs.


Lapland and the Arctic North are on display.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Reindeer's Journey offers an engaging look into the natural world but doesn't hold back from showing the harsh realities of the animal kingdom. The narration builds suspense and foreshadows potential harm to the wild reindeer herd, including the baby reindeer at the heart of the story, which could cause younger viewers angst. Animals die, but the actual killing or moment of death is never shown. There's also some frank discussion of male reindeer competing for "the favors" of the females. As a viewing experience for the whole family: The potential for learning about and appreciating the natural world outweighs the scarier or sadder moments, and the young reindeer and his mother emerge unharmed.

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What's the story?

In A REINDEER'S JOURNEY, we follow the reindeer Ailo from birth through the first year of his life in snowy Lapland, in northern Finland. From the very moment of his birth, Ailo faces dangers of every kind, from predators (especially she-wolves and wolverines) to changing seasons (harsher every year due to climate change) to human behavior (deforestation and roads that interrupt reindeer routes). We watch as Ailo learns basic behaviors like walking and swimming within minutes or days of his birth, and then grows to become a member and eventual leader of the herd. The reindeer have their place among the other animals and plants of the northern Arctic ecosystem, and we're introduced to a large cast of characters by an insightful narrator (voiced by Donald Sutherland). Due largely to climate change, the wild reindeer herd's natural migratory patterns and traditional means of survival are in flux.

Is it any good?

This film has the potential to enthrall even those viewers who don't normally enjoy nature documentaries. It does so through a combination of gorgeous aerial and on-the-ground cinematography matched with an engaging narration that translates the animal world for humans. Voiced by Donald Sutherland, the omniscient narrator takes you by the hand and gently, knowingly guides you into the reindeer's world, explaining what the animals are thinking and doing and feeling. He transfers human sentiments to their kingdom in a poetic, almost philosophical way. "Do you think this world is tough?" he prods. "You're right." But it's worth living another day to experience all that life has to offer.

There's suspense: Will Ailo survive his precarious first year in the face of incessant dangers, will the wolverines attack the vulnerable domesticated reindeer, will the wolf pack catch the wild reindeer? There's also humor: Ailo mimicking the actions of a rabbit, the narrator describing the tasty lemming as the "chicken nugget of the Arctic." And there's stunning beauty in Lapland's frozen landscape, its prophetic northern lights, the fjords where the sea "carves the mountains like lace," the vast and varied animal kingdom. You can't help but wonder how the filmmakers managed to meld into this closed ecosystem and track the animals so closely, but you'll be very glad they did. In addition to A Reindeer's Journey's subtle ecological message, Ailo's fight for survival has important lessons for us all.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why this film is called A Reindeer's Journey. Is there more than one kind of journey on display in the film?

  • How does this documentary show that Arctic wildlife has been affected by climate change?

  • In what ways does the narrator give the animals human characteristics? How did the narrator help make the images more entertaining and interesting?

  • How does Ailo's tale show perseverance? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

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